Notes from the Telluride Film Festival

August 31, 2012

Milos Stehlik

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The 39th Telluride Film Festival begins Friday. It's just four days, but it is the most concise, powerful window on the best in word cinema anywhere. This year's films range from Deepa Mehta's adaptation of Salman Rushdie's novel Midnight's Children to an explosive Israeli documentary that interviews the five former directors of the Shin Bet, Israel's secret service, with startling revelations and bleak insights. 

Not to be outdone, in his Act of Killing, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer gave cameras to former leaders of death squads in Indonesia. Today they run the country, and are proud of their actions in the "anti-communist" genocide in which a million people died. Even Ben Affleck, who was at the welcome reception Thursday night with Jennifer Garner, will sneak-preview his directorial effort, Argo, here in Telluride over the weekend. The film is set during the Iranian hostage crisis, as the CIA tries to extricate six Amerians out of Iran.

There is also some of the best of Cannes here: Michael Hanake's moving end-of-life love story, Amour, with Emannuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, and Ulrich Seidl's risky — and brilliant — Love: Paradise about sexual tourism in Africa, as well as Berlin Film Festival award-winner Barbara by Christian Petzold, already set to be the German entry for Academy Awards.

Three Telluride tributes honor Marion Cotillard, who is on a hot streak and successfully navigating careers in France and Hollywood, with a screening of Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone, in which she delivers a terrific performance as an Orca whale trainer with a difficult relationship with her brother.

Mads Mikkelsen, the Danish actor who has often played tough guy roles including in Casino Royale, is being honored with a screening of The Hunt, in which Mikkelsen is set against type as a kindergarten teacher falsely accused of molesting a child.

Roger Corman — a cinematic genius whose 400 films established a new, low-budget alternative to Hollywood and in the process gave early starts to careers of Jonathan Demme, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson — is receiving a well-deserved tribute. At 86, Corman is still hard at work.

Thursday night, Sarah Burns, who co-directs (with her father Ken Burns and David McMahon) The Central Park Five, a documentary about the false imprisonment of New York teenagers for the 1989 central park rape, said "No one really remembers just how hard it is to get to Telluride."

Telluride is in a most beautiful place, high in the San Juan mountains. But this invariably means an eight- or ten-hour or longer trip. You often arrive at Teluride exhausted, and, at 8,500 feet, gasping for oxygen. But within a few hours, the films deliver the adrenalin shot, and you are delivered close to heaven.